'A Failure of the Navy:' Next CNO Addresses Problems with New Carrier

 Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer is briefed by Lt. Cmdr. Chabonnie Alexander, USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) ordnance handling officer, on the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator during a tour of the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier on Jan. 17, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kiana A. Raines)
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer is briefed by Lt. Cmdr. Chabonnie Alexander, USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) ordnance handling officer, on the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator during a tour of the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier on Jan. 17, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kiana A. Raines)

The admiral tapped to lead the Navy did not hold back when questioned by lawmakers about a host of problems that have delayed the delivery of a new aircraft carrier and pushed it far over budget.

Vice Adm. Michael Gilday faced tough questions from lawmakers about big problems aboard the $13 billion aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford during his Senate confirmation hearing to serve as the next chief of naval operations.

Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, even went as far as to say the problems with the ship's weapons elevators, a dual-band radar, and catapults and arresting gear that launch and catch aircraft on the flight deck "ought to be criminal."

Though Gilday highlighted some of the progress the Navy has made in getting the ship's radar and catapult and arresting gear squared away, he acknowledged that there are serious lessons to be learned from the way the new technologies were developed. That includes the service's decision not to test the elevators that carry ordnance up to the flight deck ashore before installing them on the first in the new line of Ford-class carriers.

"Ultimately, I would consider that a failure of the Navy," Gilday said.

Twenty-three new technologies were introduced onto the carrier Ford, which was supposed to deploy by 2021. Ongoing problems with the elevators have again pushed the post-shakedown availability back to October -- even after Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said President Donald Trump could fire him if the systems weren't up and running by next month. The post-shakedown availability is mean to fix problems the crew spots after a ship is commissioned.

"Even with this delay, only two elevators of the 11 elevators will be ready in October," Inhofe said. "Nine elevators will not be ready and likely will not be completed until 2020 or later.

"This is the latest example of Navy leaders not being straightforward when it comes to the program," the senator added.

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Gilday said it's "absolutely critical" to test brand-new systems for complex warships ashore going forward.

"If we're going to introduce new technologies, [they should be] prototyped adequately and proven before we go to production," he said.

Navy leaders have a responsibility to keep the production of new ships on their projected timeline, Gilday added. He pledged that as CNO, he would ensure steps are taken to better test new systems before they're added to new submarines or other vessels.

Though the weapons elevators remain a major hurdle for the carrier, Gilday said the Navy has made real progress with the new electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS. That system, along with the carrier's arresting gear, have been used to launch and recover 800 planes at sea, Gilday said. That's in line with the level of reliability found on Nimitz-class carriers, he added, which use steam-powered catapults.

"The focus right now is on those elevators," Gilday said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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